If DOT Doesn’t Add a Bike Lane to 4th Avenue Now, How Long Will It Take?

DOT is set to cast Fourth Avenue pedestrian safety improvements in concrete, which may preclude the possibility of future protected lanes on the corridor. Image: DOT
DOT is set to cast Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue pedestrian safety improvements in concrete, which will make it harder to add a protected lane on the corridor. Image: DOT

Sunset Park residents are calling on DOT to change its plans for Fourth Avenue to include a protected bike lane, the Brooklyn Paper reports. They make an excellent point: If DOT doesn’t change the design of an upcoming capital project on Fourth Avenue, it’s going to be very difficult to add a protected bike lane on what should be a major corridor in the city’s bike network.

DOT installed pedestrian safety improvements along Fourth Avenue between 65th Street and 15th Street in 2012 and between 15th Street and Atlantic Avenue in 2013. The projects used temporary materials like paint and plastic posts to expand pedestrian medians and narrow traffic lanes, reducing the bloodshed on a wide, dangerous street. Pedestrian injuries fell 30 percent in Sunset Park and 61 percent in Park Slope.

But bike lanes were not included, and Fourth Avenue remains a forbidding street to bicycle on, despite being the best continuous connection between Bay Ridge/Sunset Park and Downtown Brooklyn.

Soon, the city plans to cast the wider medians in concrete with a “Vision Zero Great Streets” capital project. The first phase of construction is set to begin in the spring, between 8th Street and 18th Street and between 33rd Street and 52nd Street. Once that concrete is poured, it’s going to be a lot tougher to return to Fourth Avenue again and add a good bike lane.

DOT expects cyclists to ride in the leftover space of 13-foot-wide parking lanes on Fourth Avenue, but those provide no protection from moving traffic and are often blocked by double-parked vehicles. In 2015, 19 cyclists were injured and another one was killed along the corridor, according to Vision Zero View.

Most people in Sunset Park live east of Fourth Avenue. Other than Fifth Avenue, all the other north-south streets near the residential heart of the neighborhood end at Greenwood Cemetery. But Fifth Avenue is a bus route and commercial corridor where squeezing in protected bike lanes would be harder to do than Fourth Avenue.

Since the current design of the capital project will basically replicate the improvements that have already brought down injuries on Fourth Avenue, implementation is not especially urgent. The safety gains have already been achieved. If DOT can come up with a better design that includes safe space for bicycling, the extra time it would take to change the plan would be well worth it.